Creating Ripples in Communities Manila Water’s Full Circle Approach

“MAP Insights” Column in BUSINESSWORLD – 3 August 2010

by Gerardo C. Ablaza

12 years ago, Aling Wilma, a resident belonging to an urban poor community in Barangay Welfareville in Mandaluyong, would wake up at 2 am to take her son for a 30-minute walk to the communal shallow well for their family’s share of water. Cues were long and access to clean and safe water was low.

By the time Aling Wilma was home from this daily routine, she was exhausted and had little energy to go on with the rest of her day’s work. Her seven year old son on the other hand, would come home with his bucket only half-full, as the long walk carrying a heavy pail for his build was quite a struggle.

This was a common scenario for most of Manila’s urban poor communities during the 1990’s. Add to that, Metro Manila’s water system was faced with a number of technical challenges then -- water supply was inadequate and water losses (“non-revenue water”) peaked at 63%, caused by deteriorated lines and widespread illegal connections.

Recognizing that the private sector could effectively improve Manila’s waterworks, the government opened the state-owned Metropolitan Waterworks and Sewerage System (MWSS) operations for bidding. On August 1997, the Ayala-led Manila Water took over water and wastewater operations for Manila’s east zone with a mission -- to supply 24/7 potable water in its service area.

Walking the Line for a Better Pulse
Early on, Manila Water realized that its function provides a unique opportunity to create a significant difference in the lives of people it serves. Operating with a customer-centric approach, the Company adopted a decentralized management style, dividing the service areas into smaller areas, called territories, each handled by a Territory Manager. Regularly, these Territory Managers would walk-the-line in their assigned areas to get a better pulse for customers and their needs. Through approach, Manila Water Managers learned first hand the struggles of the underprivileged customers to get quality, potable water.

For one, many urban poor families were unable to apply for regular water service connections because they lacked a critical requirement – proof of land ownership. This created a domino effect of challenges for the community -- most of them had to pay steep prices to scheming water vendors just to have enough water for their daily needs. Many residents, most of them mothers and children, like Aling Wilma and her son, had to walk long miles and queue for hours to fetch water from public faucets or shallow wells. Worse, a number of poor families resorted to tapping illegal connections to mainlines, a practice which often caused water contamination and diseases. And since a considerable amount of time was used to source water from various sources, productivity in the community was low.

Tubig Para Sa Barangay: A Full Circle Approach
To address these interconnected challenges, Manila Water set up the “Tubig Para Sa Barangay” (TPSB) or “Water for the Community” program in 1998. This program developed tailor-fit schemes to suit the physical, social and economic conditions of specific communities to enable marginalized households to easily connect to a piped-in water supply.

This was first done by easing land title requirements in collaboration with the local government. The TPSB program also introduced flexible financing options through staggered connection fees and cost-sharing among residents, which enabled them to save 2/3 the usual connection fee. In addition, Manila Water adopted a socialized tariff scheme and gave additional discounts to low-income families.

While flexible financing and the easing of requirements made water applications less complex for the urban poor, the success of the TPSB can largely be attributed to Manila Water’s 360° implementation approach which factored in each of the area’s unique social realities with the design of its pipelines.

Establishing a strong partnership among Manila Water, the community, local government units and non-government organizations proved to be key in this approach. This partnership, endearingly called the “ka-sangga” system, involved all stakeholders in every stage of the initiative, empowering them to not just be mere observers or beneficiaries, but owners of the project.

This partnership begins with public consultations and dialogues prior to each TPSB project implementation. By sharing our plans with the community, and by allowing its members to play crucial roles in the management, billing, collection, maintenance and monitoring of each water connection, a clear sense of involvement is created. The community itself becomes an important part of the solution to their previous water challenges. The people themselves now protect their water network from illegal connections and meter tampering. This practice proved beneficial to the company as well; non-revenue water (“water losses”) significantly dropped each year. In fact, as of first quarter of this year, water losses have course down to 14.2%. The Manila Water marks the completion of every project with an inauguration or a simple turnover ceremony with the community. By celebrating milestones such as these, community members feel a clear sense of reward and ownership for their water lines.

TPSB: The ripple effect
Since its inception till now, Manila Water’s TPSB program has helped uplift the lives of over 1.6 million poor people. It has also brought numerous benefits to underprivileged communities. Families no longer have to spend several hours a day to collect water as potable water supply is available to them 24 hours a day right from their tap. And since residents have more time on their hands, they can now engage in more productive activities including micro-entrepreneurship to add to their limited income.

TPSB beneficiaries have also realized substantial financial savings. A typical family used to spend approximately P150 per cubic meter (equivalent to 5 drums) for non-potable water from informal water vendors and re-sellers. They also spent on purchasing bottled water for their drinking needs. With the TPSB program, however, marginalized families now pay as low as P7 per cubic meter for potable water, barely 5% of their previous water expenses.

As importantly, water-borne diseases have become less of a problem in poor communities, now that clean water is flowing from their taps. Reports from the Philippine Department of Health (DOH) show that diarrhea cases per 1,000 population in TPSB communitieshave gone down by nearly 80%. This has contributed to significant improvements in the over-all health and sanitation in many urban poor communities.

The TPSB has been and will continue to be at the forefront of Manila Water’s Sustainable Development initiatives. Internationally, the TPSB is a celebrated story of how a Filipino Company, despite undergoing extreme challenges, can create a ripple effect intransforming people in marginalized communities into productive citizens by providing a basic need – potable water.

Manila Water is inviting all its customers and MAP Members to learn more about water, wastewater, and the environment through the “Water Trail Tour”. For more information, please contact Ms. Tin Buhat at 9175900 loc. 1004 or email:watertrail@manilawater.com

(The article reflects the personal opinion of the author and does not reflect the official stand of the Management Association of the Philippines. The author is President of Manila Water Company. Feedback at map@globelines.com.ph.




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